Paul Bedford’s Valediction to Metrolinx

Paul Bedford, former Chief Planner of Toronto and recently-former member of the Metrolinx Board of Directors, had a few words of wisdom for that board at its February 2012 meeting.

A short version of his thoughts appears in today’s National Post in an interview with Peter Kuitenbrouwer.

The full bullet-point version of Bedford’s notes is available here.

Bedford urges the board to be bold and speak publicly about major issues.  We are not going to get public and political buy-in to difficult decisions is we pretend the problems don’t exist.  I will return to this topic in another article later today.

TTC Coup Planned for March 5 Council Meeting (Updated)

Updated Mar. 2, 2012 at 8:45pm:  It now appears that rather than proposing a slate of potential new Commissioners, the process will be to have open nominations from the floor and an election.

The Globe and Mail’s Kelly Grant reports that there will be a move by TTC Chair Karen Stintz and her supporters to unseat the Gang of Five responsible for the firing of Gary Webster at next week’s Council Meeting.

Updated:  Tess Kalinowski and Paul Maloney from the Star weigh in on the story.

The original “compromise” allegedly worked out with Mayor Ford for an updated TTC had been for an 11-member board with 5 “citizen” members and 6 Councillors, one of whom would be appointed as Chair by Council.  Any upheaval would wait until June after the choice of citizen members was completed.

Recent news from the Mayor, his brother Doug, and other supporters shows that “compromise” is the last word on their mind when it comes to transit planning.  In quick succession, recent days brought us proposals for new taxes and fees, development charges, a casino, a lottery and even a new set of toll expressways to allow Doug to get downtown without congestion.  Each of these schemes has been more outrageous, ill-considered, hare-brained and short-lived as its predecessor.

Clearly, the Fords’ policy brains-trust is spinning out of control in a desperate attempt to find any way to bring credibility to a Sheppard Subway funding plan.  A few Councillors are gullible enough (or still afraid enough of the Mayor) to go along with this charade, but we will see how all that works out at a special Council meeting of March 21.

Meanwhile, housecleaning now, not in June, is absolutely essential at the TTC to prevent the Commission from highjacking Council’s transit priorities.

Stintz now proposes to dissolve the existing Commission and replace it on an interim basis with seven Councillors.  Four citizen members with transit expertise (not, I fervently hope, the political hacks such as Gordon Chong who once graced that board with the dubious value of their presence) will be added in June once the search process completes.

The proposed new Commission would include current Chair Stintz, former Vice-Chair Mihevc, current Vice-Chair Milczyn, current Commissioners Augimeri and Parker, plus Councillors de Baeremaeker and Colle.  Only one of these, Milczyn, hails from the former Ford camp, and his position has been wavering.

Updated:  Although the procedure now appears to be nominations and votes from the floor, we can expect that Council will divide into two camps, and that serious lobbying will occur for the handful of swing votes in the “mushy middle”.

Procedurally, this is possible because a report discussing the makeup of the Commission is on the March 5 agenda.  Its original intent was to help Ford bolster his control of the board, but the timing has blown that scheme up in his face.  If the left-centre group on Council succeeds in ripping the TTC from Ford’s control, we can be sure to see more moves to box in the Mayor and strip him of powers granted by Council.

A vote to replace the Commission will also be a straw vote on the future of the Sheppard LRT and of LRT plans in general because to lose the TTC will be a major political and strategic blow to Mayor Ford with more to come.

Some may argue that this will give him exactly the platform he needs for re-election (“they won’t let me fulfill the mandate you voters gave me”), but that argument will only play to Ford’s dwindling base.  What Toronto, and any potential challenger to Ford, needs is a demonstration that Ford’s way is not the only option, and that the city can be a better place if run with a more progressive and collegial outlook at Council.

TTC Meeting Review February 29, 2012

The February 29th meeting of the Toronto Transit Commission was one of the shortest in my long memory of these events.  The agenda was trivial with an utter absence of meaty issues for debate, and the real action would follow in press scrums.

Accessible Transit Services Plan: 2011 Status Report

This generally upbeat report was approved without debate.

Notable by its absence is any mention of the operating budget challenges faced thanks to cutbacks in funding by the City of Toronto.  Recently, the Commission diverted $5-million intended to support regular bus service quality into the Wheel Trans budget.  For the long term, Council must address the fact that cutbacks to the Wheel Trans subsidy have much more severe effects, proportionately, than cuts to the regular system.

The TTC may be improving its accessibility, slowly, but basic questions about whether the service is adequate to meet demand receive little public debate.  This is not just a question of Wheel Trans for those who cannot use the conventional system, but of recognition that mobility affects many who are ambulatory, but whose neighbourhoods and destinations may not be well served by surface routes.

What’s In A Name?  Stations on the Spadina Extension in Vaughan

The Commission adopted “Highway 407” and “Vaughan Metropolitan Centre” as the names for the two stations north of Steeles on the Spadina subway extension on a 5-2 vote.

For some time, staff and some Commissioners have pressed for the simpler “Vaughan Centre”, but the City of Vaughan Council prefers the longer (and somewhat more pretentious) name.  Sadly, the opposition to the long version came from Commissioners whose credibility leaves much to be desired, although their comments might in other circumstances be cogent.

Norm Kelly mentioned the “conceit” of former cities within Metropolitan Toronto which created “town centres” such as in Scarborough, Kelly’s home turf.  This is deeply ironic considering that it is the failure of Scarborough Town Centre to attract employment that is part of the argument against the Sheppard Subway extension which Kelly supports.  Frank Di Giorgio worried that everyone will make a case for special consideration on station names.  Di Giorgio, it should be remembered, is the advocate for total obedience to Mayoral fiats by city staff, and if Rob Ford had a position on station names, it would take precedence over everything.

Meanwhile Maria Augimeri had hopes her “Black Creek” would get equal consideration when it comes to formally naming “Steeles West” station.

After the meeting, a group of my colleages agreed that one of my local stations, Chester, should be renamed as “Riverdale Metropolitan Centre”, although I might add the word “Organic” in deference to the neighbourhood.

It is unclear how the TTC will handle placing the long version of “VMC Station” on its maps and other signage.

St. Clair at Keele/Weston

Commissioner Palacio asked for a report on improving traffic conditions at the St. Clair and Keele intersection where, because of the rail underpass just to the east, traffic is constrained to a single lane by the streetcar right-of-way.

Restructuring the Commission

In a scrum after the meeting, Chair Karen Stintz announced that she had reached a compromise for the proposed change in the makeup of the TTC.  A report coming to Council on March 5 (whose origin lies in the machinations of the Ford camp to enhance control of all agencies by the Mayor) recommends a nine-member Commission (as at present) with five citizen members and four Councillors.  The Chair and Vice-Chair would be a Councillor and Citizen member respectively.

The new proposal would see an 11-member Commission with six Councillors.

After the firing of Gary Webster by Ford’s Gang of Five, many Councillors have talked about restructuring the Commission to be more representative of Council as soon as possible, including at the March 5 meeting.  Stintz feels that she has the votes for the compromise arrangement, and that a major shuffle of the Commission would not occur until June when the citizen appointments are confirmed by Council.

The next move is up to Council itself on March 5.

Subways and only Subways

While the TTC was meeting, across on the other side of City Hall Mayor Ford was hosting a bevy of developers for a luncheon discussion of subway funding.  After the TTC meeting completed, there was a scrum outside of the Mayor’s office (with Chair Stintz nowhere in sight) in which the Mayor and his circle claimed that there was broad support in the development industry for subways.  When pressed about funding, Mayor Ford didn’t want to get into the details beyond pointing to the Chong report, but claimed that the development community was totally onside.  Onside maybe, but the developers all slipped out the side door and avoided the media lest they have to go on record supporting or, worse, opposing the Mayor.

Of course developers love subways because they offer an opportunity to squeeze higher densities out of the city than they would get otherwise.  We have been down this path before with the Sheppard Subway.  However, don’t ask the developers to pay for subways, certainly not through development levies that would make their brand new condos uncompetitive with buildings downtown, the really hot part of the condo market.

See Robyn Doolittle and Royson James in the Star (the photo suggests Ford is less than engaged in the event), and Elizabeth Church and Kelly Grant in the Globe.

The strangest part of the whole scheme is that funding the subway depends on new revenue sources many of which Ford is on record as hating, and one (the vehicle registration tax) which he killed early in his term as a swipe at Toronto’s alleged appetite for higher revenues rather than reduced expenses.  Even the normally supportive Toronto Sun cannot believe what their hero is up to.

All of this leads up to a March 15 21 special Council meeting where the “expert panel” convened to look at Sheppard options will report that LRT is the preferred option.  Will Mayor Ford have a credible financing scheme in place, or will this be more smoke and mirrors, more claims that the money is there without any commitment to actually raising the levies needed to build the project?